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Speeding tickets and vehicle registration

I confess, I’m puzzled by this.

Municipal Court Presiding Judge Barbara Hartle has a proposal on Wednesday’s City Council agenda to sign an agreement with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles that would have the state refuse to issue vehicle registrations to people who have outstanding traffic fines.

As proposed by Hartle, by investing about $20,000 a year into compiling lists of scofflaws and coordinating with the state, the city could reap a windfall of $432,000 a year in higher collections.

Two years ago, a similar proposal involving red-light camera runners was rebuffed by the county. City officials had proposed registration holds on red-light runners caught on camera. It required the buy-in of the county tax assessor-collector, who issues license plates and stickers. Leo Vasquez, then the tax collector, agreed to the deal and made the pitch to Commissioners Court. Because the county gets a cut of the fee when it issues a registration and would, essentially, be forfeiting revenue for cracking down on city scofflaws, Commissioners Court rejected the deal.

This time, the tax collector who would be in charge of placing the holds sits on the council, and he does not like Hartle’s plan. District E Councilman Mike Sullivan was elected tax assessor-collector this month and will leave the council in January when he is sworn in at the county.

“In my mind, it’s nothing more than an attempt to have the county collect fees and fines that the city should collect on their own,” Sullivan said. “It looks like the mayor wants to push this over to the county as another layer of enforcement to collect money for the city.”

Sullivan said he opposes the arrangement as he intends to fulfill campaign promises to shorten the lines at the tax office windows. In addition, he said he is worried that holds could mistakenly be placed on people who do not owe fines.

I understood the county not wanting to help with enforcing the collection of red light camera fines. This I have a harder time with. There’s no policy dispute about the legitimacy of the fines being imposed as there was with red light cameras. I appreciate Sullivan’s concerns about possibly ensnaring someone who doesn’t owe a fine, but surely this is a less intrusive approach than involving a collection agency or filing a lawsuit, which would be the options left to the city. This would also be by far the least expensive way to collect outstanding fines, which makes it the most efficient use of taxpayer money. I don’t get the reluctance to get involved. I note that the last time this issue came up, the ultimate decision rested with Commissioners Court, who overruled then-Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez on red light camera fine enforcement. Tax Assessor-Elect Sullivan’s disapproval may therefore not be the final word on this.

UPDATE: Today’s story, from after Council approved the plan on a 14-1 vote, adds some more detail and shows a possible path forward.

Council’s action essentially means scofflaws will not be able to renew their registrations on the DMV website. Instead, they will have to go to the window at the tax office, where tax assessor Don Sumners said he will continue to issue registrations even if the state prints the word “scofflaw” on their renewal forms.

“I don’t think they (the city) could pay us enough for the services it would cause.We don’t have enough people as it is,” Sumners said.


Sullivan said he also believes the city should not offload its collections operations onto county government. He left the door open to a deal after he is sworn in as tax assessor in January, though, if City Attorney David Feldman is the city’s broker.

“He’s apolitical,” Sullivan said. “This administration is nothing but political and has not been honest and direct and transparent with me as a council member. However, Mr. Feldman has always been fair with me in all of my dealings.”

So there you have it.

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  1. joshua bullard says:

    a bunch of those bums down at council will probably passit, thank god mike sullivan will be down there to block it— you got to love america.joshua ben bullard

  2. Ross says:

    Joshua, why are you opposed to the City using every possible tool to collect unpaid fines? This is a no brainer sort of deal, and the legislature ought to redefine the Tax Assessor duties to make it mandatory.

  3. Steve Houston says:

    The real reason why the county won’t do this is that the city is democratic and the county is republican. As soon as the city elects a republican candidate, this will change so they can be labeled as fiscally conservative or as the defender of righteousness.

    From the city point of view, it is simply one more tool to get people to pay what they owe. From the county point of view, it is one more way to keep a democratic mayor from building her resume for higher office. I’m sure that the city and county could work out a program where neither would approve any permit or license of a scofflaw tagged by the other but that would require someone with common sense in charge.

  4. joshua bullard says:

    Ross-i must admit, youve grown on me over the years,sometimes like a butterfly and others like a bee,then in some small issues like a worm-heres your answer-i dont think that expansion of goverment is the answer in this case-youve got a republican lege down there so you know they arent going to retoole the tax collectors duty’s-i am not opposed to the city using its own means-but its unfair on the rate payer to use another taxpayer paid entity to leg grab your ass from behind,if the city wants the person to pay up-they need to use the legal dept letter head as collection letters and the collection rate will ross i know your dem-but i wonder some times, are you green party?-maybe u need to look around at what county this is-its harris county, and everybody gets there own money themselves-the mayor is old school democrat-she could care less about less goverment more freedom,she will l pinch your ass and boot your car in a new york minute untill you pay the tax-funny thing is , its probably a tax the county wouldnt have had in the first place- ross do you really want to keep a single mother with five kids from being able to get her registration sticker for her car because she owes 84$ dollars in library fines??????????

    truly yours joshua ben bullard